Climbers on the lower slopes of Hvannadalshnúkur (Photo by Stephen Regenold)
From the summit ridge on Hvannadalshnúkur, Iceland's highest peak, the world dropped away to a blanket of clouds. It was late May, and I'd come from far below, a daylong climb up from near sea level to Hvannadalshnúkur's 6,922-foot ridge in the sky.
As mountaineering adventures go, the climb on the hard-to-pronounce Icelandic peak is a slog. But what a beautiful slog it is, including an ascent from misty highlands, past waterfalls, and up a rock ridge. You pass through the clouds, then onto the snow. Finally, on a high plateau, snow stretches for miles in all directions, a glacial scene unlike anything I've ever seen.
(The news hound in me enjoyed Icelandic volcano climbing, too. Buried under clouds southwest of the high peak was another consonant-heavy volcano, Eyjafjallajokull, the country's ash-spewing giant that caused havoc this spring to air flights in and out of Europe.)
My day on Hvannadalshnúkur was spent with literally dozens of Icelanders. A climbing program organized by the Icelandic outerwear company 66 North included a series of training climbs over the past few months. Hvannadalshnúkur was the final test for the group of climbers, many of whom were new to mountaineering.
As the peak was non-technical--mostly hiking and kicking steps in snow--I kept my gear lightweight. Instead of rigid plastic mountaineering boots, I wore the Roclite 288 GTX shoes from Inov-8 (inov-8.com), which are flexible high-tops made waterproof with a Gore-Tex treatment.
For traction underfoot, I clipped into a pair of Kahtoola KTS crampons (kahtoola.com), a lightweight grid of aluminum spikes. They weigh almost nothing but provide grip for snow and ice on moderate mountaineering terrain.
My other climbing gear came from C.A.M.P. USA (camp-usa.com), including the ultra-light ALP 95 harness, which is made of thin webbing and weighs a mere 3.4 ounces. The company's XLA 210 ice ax--also amazingly light at 7.5 ounces--was my tool in hand in case of a fall.
Rain and fog accompanied the hike on Hvannadalshnúkur at the start of the day. We roped up at the glacier, stepping over crevasses and up through clouds toward the sun at the crater. The whole day, through varying temps and weather conditions, I never changed my top layers.
I wore wool base layers and a jacket from 66 Degrees North (66north.com) called the Vatnajökull Softshell. The jacket, designed in Iceland, uses a new fabric called Polartec Power Shield Pro. It kept me dry from rain and snow, and it breathed adequately all day. Indeed, the Vatnajökull Softshell is one of the most breathable waterproof jackets I have used. It costs $330 and comes to market this fall.
On the climb, a long traverse crept over an immense plain of ice. Then the final hump of Hvannadalshnúkur rose like a pyramid from the snow. We kicked steps and followed a trail left by climbers ahead. Another half-hour and we'd be on top, ice axes raised in glory, the highest point on Iceland under our boots.
--Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.gearjunkie.com.